Families in Chinese Politics
As the previous chapters have hinted, family ties played a peculiar role in Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution. The Lin Biao incident itself can be considered the result of the problems in Lin's family. Without the active participation of Lin's family members in Chinese politics, the Lin Biao incident in its narrow sense probably would never have happened.1 And without an understanding of the role of family in politics in Communist China, we might never fully understand or believe what happened to Lin Biao in September 1971, even with all the evidence in hand.
In Confucian China, the family, rather than the individual, was the basic social and economic unit of society. Confucian doctrine put great emphasis on a strong family structure. According to Mencius, the state itself was rooted in the farnily.2 An individual properly raised in a family that valued Confucian doctrine would learn to respect authority, to carry out duties responsibly, and to remain a loyal member of the family. Such a person would also be loyal to the state, which replicated the hierarchical structure of an extended family. The relationship between rulers and deputies was analogous to that between fathers and sons.3
Within this Confucian structure, the state consciously cultivated the family as the primary unit of social organization, and this structure persists in contemporary China.4 Respect for family remains a defining feature of Chinese civilization. Family members follow strict hierarchical rules. In nuclear families, which consist of parents and children, the ideal is an authoritarian husband and father, an obedient wife and mother, and filial children. In extended families of more than two generations living in the same household, the oldest male holds the highest authority.
Confucian doctrine, however, does not fully account for the importance of the family in traditional Chinese society. The state strengthened